Compound Subject-Verb Agreement

Contributor: Allison Crews. Lesson ID: 13782

Subject-verb agreement can be tricky to keep track of, but knowing the rules saves you a lot of headaches in proofreading. This lesson will focus on the rules of agreement with compound subjects.


Grammar, Writing

English / Language Arts
learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • If John is hanging posters for the class election...and I am hanging posters for the class do we combine these into a single sentence?

confused cat

Read on to find out!

The answer is:

John and I are hanging posters for the class election.

  • But why?

There are three main rules to remember when dealing with compound nouns.

  1. If the nouns are joined by the word and, use a plural verb.

When you use and, it signals addition.

John and I hang the posters in the example above. Whether or not we hang them together, the action describes what both nouns do as a single event.

Here's another example.

Spike runs after the ball.
Chomps runs after the ball.
Bowser runs after the ball.

Spike, Chomps, and Bowser run after the ball.

All three subjects are performing the verb; therefore, it is plural.

  1. If singular nouns are joined by the word or or nor, use a singular verb.

In cases where or or nor is being used, it makes a distinction in who is performing the verb or how the verb will be performed.

If there are only enough posters for one person to hang, for example, John or I might hang them, but not both.

Take a look at the difference.

Either John or I is hanging posters for the class election.

When the hanging is completed, only one of the two subjects will have completed it. Therefore, a singular noun is used.

  1. If a singular and plural noun are joined by the word or or nor within the compound noun, the verb should agree with the noun closest to it.

Here's an example.

Patrice or the cheerleaders are responsible for that part of the project.

The cheerleaders or Patrice is responsible for that part of the project.

The verb still indicates who will have completed the action once it is done; therefore, the assumption is that the subject completing the action is the one closest to the verb.

Think Fast!

fast brain

  • Do you use singular or plural verbs in the following scenarios?

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Terrific! Now you know the rules for compound noun-verb agreement.

It's time to practice what you've learned. Click through to the Got It? section to give it a try!

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